With President Trump’s diplomatic outreach stalled, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will seek to expand his options and cultivate new allies during a long-rumored meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days.
News outlets in Russia and South Korea on Tuesday confirmed that planning for the historic meeting — the first between the two men — is nearing completion. It’s expected Mr. Kim and Mr. Putin will meet next week in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.
“I can confirm that preparations for the meeting are underway, we have been talking about it for quite a while,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “As soon as there is full clarity on the date and place of the meeting, we will inform you.”
Kim Chang-son, a chief aide to Mr. Kim in charge of the North Korean leader’s overseas trips, visited Moscow and Vladivostok from March 19 to 25, according to the North Korean Leadership Watch website.
The summit would come just before Mr. Putin heads to Beijing for a major international forum on China’s massive One Belt, One Road infrastructure-financing initiative.
The potential meeting carries clear benefits for both sides. For Mr. Putin, it would allow him to seize the global spotlight and present himself as a leader on equal footing to Mr. Trump. Should Moscow and Pyongyang come to some sort of concrete agreement, Mr. Putin also could claim he was able to make progress where Mr. Trump so far has come up short.
For Mr. Kim, the meeting may offer an opportunity to deliver a badly needed jolt to its economy. Having failed to loosen the grip of U.S. and U.N. economic sanctions, North Korea could appeal to Mr. Putin as wedge between the international community that so far has been relatively united behind Washington’s lead in keeping the pressure on Pyongyang.
Mr. Kim has also now had multiple visits with Mr. Trump, with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but has yet to travel to Russia, with which the North shares an 11-mile land border.
The U.S. long has sought the aid of Russia — and, more importantly, China — in its effort to achieve a lasting denuclearization deal with Pyongyang. Russia and China were key members of the so-called “six-party talks” last decade, a major international push aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The ultimately fruitless talks also included South Korea, Japan, and the U.S., along with North Korea.
Mr. Trump tried a different approach upon taking office. He offered Mr. Kim an unprecedented face-to-face meeting as a way to kick-start negotiations. Summits in Singapore last June and in Hanoi in February has led to a lowering of bilateral tensions and a halt to the North’s nuclear and missile tests, but the two sides remain far apart on the definition and timing of a denuclearization deal and the lifting of stifling economic sanctions on the North.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun also said Monday that he’d been told by top Russian officials that preparations are being made for the meeting, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, who is known to be in charge of security issues, reportedly visited Pyongyang earlier this month.
South Korean and Russian officials are meeting in Moscow this week.
Ahead of a potential Putin-Kim summit, the State Department announced Tuesday that U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen E. Biegun will travel to Russia next week and “meet with Russian officials to discuss efforts to advance the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”